Back in 1876, a guy named Melvil Dewey came up with a way of organizing books in a library, and ever since, every fifth-grader in America has gotten the same dull lecture on how the Dewey Decimal System works.
We've all learned to look for books on library shelves using long numbers assigned to every book.
It's a terribly boring system, but that's how every library has to operate, right?
Until now. Some libraries are scrapping the Dewey Decimal System, and the latest to do it is the Kendallville Public Library, which announced the change Tuesday.
The discussion of getting rid of the system started several years ago, said Jenna Anderson, the library's marketing specialist. Everyone realized that the old system didn't make it easy for people to browse.
When the library got a new director recently, everyone agreed it was time to stop talking and actually do it.
The library started by doing what was called a deep weed, removing 40,000 books that were out of date. Then library officials visited the library in Wells County, which has also ditched the Dewey system, and got tips on how to go about making the change.
The library then started labeling books according to subjects.
“Dewey wasn't an exact science, either,” Anderson said. “Who is Dewey anyway, and what did he ever do for me?”
The change is significant in the children's fiction section. It makes for ease of use having books on a specific topic together, said Beth Munk, the children's librarian, in a news release announcing the change.
Anderson offered an example of how the new system simplifies the hunt for books. A little girl asked for some help finding books about princesses. Anderson brought her to the children's section, where all of the books on princesses were together. The girl was thrilled, and it only took about two minutes, not 15 minutes trying to locate books scattered throughout the shelves.
The public seems pleased with the changes, which took a year to complete.
“People appreciate it,” Anderson said. By gathering books under subject names, it's easier for patrons, and it makes it easier to spot gaps in the library's collection.
The library, having weeded out outdated books, is now updating its collection, which patrons also appreciate, Anderson said.
This isn't a trend that is unique to northeast Indiana, either. “It's going on to some extent all over the country.”
I talked to the Allen County Public Library about whether it is a sacrilege to dump Dewey.
There is no way the main library here is going to dump the Dewey Decimal System, said Eric Fry, the manager of reader services. The library is just too big to revamp.
But the main library is borrowing some aspects of this new way of organizing. “Star Wars”-related books are all gathered together, as are graphic novels.
Some of the library branches have done the same thing, creating what are called breakouts, Fry said.
“It's something libraries should think about,” Fry said. “I'm not against it. If it brings people into the library, we should have the conversation.”
Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.